Pubdate: Sun, 18 May 2014
Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, The  (IA)
Copyright: 2014 The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Author: Jeff Reinitz


CEDAR RAPIDS | In the 18 months leading up to the 2013 Operation
Synergy drug raids, a Cedar Rapids store sold more than $1 million
worth of herbs that narcotic officers said was sprayed with
mind-altering substances.

After the raids, the real money started rolling in, according to court

Officers from local and federal agencies raided the Puff N Stuff II
shop in Cedar Rapids and other businesses last year as part of a
nationwide crackdown on fake marijuana and cocaine marketed as
potpourri and bath salts.

One Waterloo store, Five Star Snacks on Fletcher Avenue, was searched,
and prosecutors charged a manager and his mother.

Documents this month in connection with the Cedar Rapids Puff N Stuff
II shop give a glimpse into the profits involved in the sale of
synthetic drugs.

Between Jan. 9, 2012, and the Operation Synergy raids on June 26,
2013, Puff N Stuff II brought in $1.36 million selling "botanical
sachets," which included foil packages labeled Bizarro, Lights Out and
Black Arts, according to an Internal Revenue Service study of the
store's sales records.

Also referred to as potpourri and incense in the records, the sachets
accounted for 74 percent of the business's sales for that period.

The owner, Mohammad Al Sharairie, told investigators the business made
about $1,200 a day selling incense. After the raids, the store was
selling $15,000 to $20,000 a day because it was the only store still
offering the products, Al Sharairie told authorities.

Packets that cost $5 apiece wholesale were sold for $15 to $20. For
packets that wholesaled for $18, the price was $40 to $50, according
to court records.

The store's top-selling brand, Bizarro, was sold in 1.5- to 3.5-gram
bags, and the store moved 79 kilograms of Bizarro between December
2012 and June 2013, records state. The sales totaled $368,285.

The government alleges Puff N Stuff II's incense contained a substance
called 5F-PB-22, which wasn't banned by name until February 2014 when
it was included in an emergency Drug Enforcement Administration
scheduling of suspect chemicals. Court records allege 5F-PB-22 would
have been prohibited before the emergency ban because it's chemically
similar to other control substances and would be considered an analogue.

Al Sharairie's wife, Melissa, told authorities that they used a
private lab to test the store's potpourri and determined it was legal.
She said customers burned the product and anyone who consumed it was
"stupid," court records state.

Employees told police they were instructed to kick out any customers
who used "red words" indicating they intended to smoke the potpourri.

Even so, authorities said sales records indicate that people who
bought the products often purchased them with cigarette papers and

Last week, investigators filed criminal complaints against the Al
Sharairies charging them with maintaining a drug-involved premises.
Agents with the IRS's criminal investigation division also asked the
court to said three Des Moines homes and a Cedar Rapids home connected
to the Puff N Stuff II owners, claiming they were bought with proceeds
from the sale of the suspect potpourri and incense.
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